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Increase Students' Awareness of Disciplinary Conventions

“Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion—invent the university, that is, or a branch of it, like history or anthropology or economics or English. The student has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community.”

–David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University” (1984)

 

Students may have difficulty writing because they don’t understand their own discipline’s “peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing,” as David Bartholomae observes above. While scholarly standards in our field seem natural to us, they may not feel at all natural for your undergraduate students. Pointing out the assignment’s disciplinary conventions will help your students better formulate their responses to your course’s assignments.

      You may want to discuss some of these disciplinary questions as you cover the assignment with your class:

        • What is the purpose of writing in this field? 
        •  Who or what is an acceptable source of authority? 
        •  What counts as evidence? 
        •  What kinds of written formats are common in this discipline? 
        •  What key concepts or specialized terminology is used? 
        •  What theoretical concepts or models are assumed and what must be made explicit? 
        •  How are scholars in the field “in conversation” with one another?

       Adapted from Cynthia Merrill’s UCLA Writing II TA handbook.


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